Industry Reports

Ontario Horse Racing Faces Challenges amid COVID-19 Shutdown

Woodbine Entertainment faced an important decision amid the novel coronavirus outbreak as the upcoming months would not feature live races or training. Jim Lawson, Chief Executive Officer, came up with the ultimate solution to close Woodbine Mohawk Park and Woodbine Racetrack for spectators while continuing training and grooming of the racehorses on the backstretch. The government eventually shut down their entire operation.

Ontario is the province that has experienced a large number of individuals testing positive for the novel coronavirus. As of March 22, local health officials have reported 48 new cases of COVID-19, essentially increasing their overall number to 425 individuals on a provincial scale. Eight of those have made a full recovery and are now immune to the disease.

Woodbine Ent. Implement Measures

In these trying times, the province recommends social distancing, as this is expected to slow down the spread of the highly contagious virus. This directly affects the casino venues across Ontario, as well as the horse racetracks. Woodbine Racetrack and Woodbine Mohawk Park are two of the most popular locations in the Toronto area for horse racing and wagering on live events.

Locals have associated them with the diverse races taking place there, as well as with the sunny afternoons with live races and quality time spend with friends and family. Now the COVID-19 outbreak has put an end to those at least for the time being. Mr. Lawson decided that it would be best for the two racetracks if horse training continues uninterrupted ahead of the live racing season, but this decision was scrapped recently.

Woodbine Racetrack was supposed to see the official beginning of live racing on April 18 and Mr. Lawson was hopeful this was going to happen. The preparation was supposed to continue, which is why about 1,500 individuals were making their way to the backstretch of Woodbine Racetrack for the daily training and grooming. Owner Brad Grant and trainers Anthony MacDonald and Casie Coleman support the shutdown decision.

What Comes Next?

The individuals closely involved with the horse racing field of Ontario consider the halt of live horse racing a positive measure, while also taking into account the tough situation local horse people are in right now. Mr. MacDonald pointed out that the industry is unstable and many people would go bankrupt as a result of the indefinite shutdown. The government decided that horse people should not be put at risk of COVID-19 contraction.

Horse people such as Mr. Grant are concerned about what is to come for Ontario’s horse racing field. Taking care of the horses is not an inexpensive task and it is no secret that a most of the money comes from the purses. Now this source has been nixed for probably three or four months. Bill O’Donnell, President of the Central Ontario Standardbred Association, pointed out that the different links of the chain would be affected subsequently in the following months.

This includes horse owners, trainers, and groomers alike. Mr. Lawson has already addressed the issue with the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario and the Ontario Lottery and Gaming corporation. They would be able to decide what to do next with the purse money available at the moment. The corporations have taken into account all concerns and are expected to issue their position soon.